Readers Write: 4 responses to an abortion op-ed

The Monitor's commentary section recently ran a web op-ed on the pro-life movement from Elizabeth Jahr, a senior at Marymount University, a private Catholic college in Arlington, Va. Ms. Jahr argued that pro-life groups funnel tremendous resources into a legal war against abortion in the US without providing equivalent – or adequate – practical support for women to maintain pregnancies and care for children afterward. Yet not being able to afford a child is one of the main reasons women have abortions.

We received several responses to her op-ed – ranging in perspective from sharp disagreement to avid praise. Here is a selection of some of the most compelling letters, with arguments and facts as represented by the writers.

1. Pro-lifers really do protect the unborn

Tamir Kalifa/AP
Pro-life supporter Katherine Aguilar holds a crucifix and prays while opponents and supporters of abortion rights gather in the State Capitol rotunda in Austin, Texas, July 12.

Michael J. New

Dearborn, Mich.

Opponents of the pro-life movement are spending less time arguing about the morality of abortion. Instead, they try to make the case that the tactics of pro-lifers are either ineffective or misguided. Jahr’s op-ed piece is a prime example of this. Jahr argues that the money that pro-lifers spend on political efforts, including the March for Life, would be better spent supporting women facing crisis pregnancies.

Jahr is correct that many women who submit to an abortion cite economic reasons for their unwillingness or inability to carry their pregnancy to term. However, she seems oblivious to the fact that pro-lifers fund a vast network of pregnancy resource centers that provide medical, emotional, and financial support to thousands of women facing unplanned pregnancies every year. A 2010 study by the Family Research Council identified nearly 2,000 US pregnancy care centers that annually assist more than 2.3 million women with pregnancy support, abstinence counseling, and public health access. A conservative estimate of community cost savings for these services, which are predominantly privately funded, during 2010 is more than $100 million annually.

Jahr also cites a Guttmacher analysis that found high abortion rates in countries where abortion is illegal. However, Jahr fails to realize that many countries that restrict abortion are located in Africa, South America, and the Middle East. These countries tend to have much higher poverty rates and other social pathologies which increase the demand for abortion. In the United States alone there is an impressive body of research that shows that various types of state-level pro-life legislation – including public funding restrictions, parental involvement laws, and properly designed informed consent laws – all reduce abortion rates.

Jahr mentions that the number of abortions has steadily decreased since the 1990s. Inadvertantly, she undermines her own argument. In the past 20 years, political efforts by pro-lifers have led to judicial rulings that have granted states more ability to enforce protective pro-life laws. These same political efforts have also dramatically increased the number of pro-life laws at the state level. These incremental laws serve both a protective and an educational purpose. For instance, the debate over banning partial-birth abortion clearly demonstrated the extremely permissive nature of abortion policy in the United States.

Perhaps pro-life efforts to protect the unborn are more extensive than Jahr realizes.

Michael J. New is an assistant professor of political science at The University of Michigan – Dearborn and an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute in Washington, DC. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New.

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